When I worked in student ministry - back before I had children of my own, when I thought I had the answers about the "right way" to raise an independent, free-willing, tiny person - I enjoyed the best parts of spending a few hours each week with someone else's kid. I didn't have to make them brush their teeth, or go to bed, or deal with the fact that I said no and my no meant that I loved them, even if they thought they hated me. That was their parents' job. I got to buy them coffee and hear them pour out their beautiful hearts. There was plenty about the job and the vulnerability of those relationships that was difficult, even painful, but there was so much more that was fun.
As someone who worked primarily with middle schoolers, I still remember the out-of-my-mind annoyance of calling to a group (normally a group of boys) and being 100% tuned out. No response at all. Maybe they didn't hear me. Maybe they were deliberately ignoring me. Who knows. I also remember thinking, "When it's my kid, that won't happen. No way. I will teach them to listen the first time I say something."
If you're a mom and you're laughing at me, it's ok. I'm kind of laughing at me too. Laughing through tears.
I know we have a new baby and that's not an easy adjustment...and I know we're talking about a preschooler and a toddler...but you guys, for every one time I speak and they listen, there are five times I speak and they just keep rolling. Running. Screaming. Destructing. Throwing pizza while standing on the kitchen table. It's as if I'm a ghost mom and no one even knows I'm here.
To my friends with teenagers, longing for the days when the tough stuff was just about making them wash their hands and pulling them off the top of the piano, or sitting them in timeout for throwing cars at each other - to my friends dealing with the much heavier, social issues that we are still years away from, I see you and I'm not jealous of your battles.
But while I'm floating around my house with what sometimes feels like no voice at all, I have to say that there are more than a couple moments in the day when I want to hide from my kids. I want to pick up Jack, close the door of my room and take a nap with a newborn on my chest, who really only wants two things from me - to be fed and to be held.
I expected the adjustment from two to three to be hard, but I figured that would be about not having enough hands. As it turns out, the most difficult adjustment is not that I have three kids, but that having a third kid changes my relationship with the first two. The dynamics shifted without apology and all we can do is reorient ourselves to what is new.
This guy is trying to figure out what it means to not be the youngest; and I'm trying to figure out what it means to have more than one baby. He has been my easy-going boy for 21 months.
The joke was that he never cried. If he was mad, he was MAD, but it was rare that anything upset him that much. In the last week, we've averaged 4-5 complete and total meltdowns per day. Now the joke is about trying to figure out what doesn't make him cry.
When they are screaming and taking their clothes off (why do boys want to be naked ALL THE TIME?) and tackling without mercy and climbing up my legs because I'm holding Jack and that makes them cry - or it makes whatever is stressing them out that much harder - and no matter what I say or how I say it, they carry on as if I said nothing at all...in those moments, I want to scoop up that quiet, sleeping baby and hide until BJ gets home.
Because if I don't hide, I'm afraid of what might come out of my mouth...and that scares me more.
Obviously, I can't run. I won't. Let's be honest, there's no time to hide, because stuff like this happens all day long.
So I stay to clean faces, wipe noses and vacuum up peas for the fourth time today...and I listen to the sobs - often from all 3 at once - knowing that there's not much I can do about it. In fact, staying present may be the only thing I actually can do.
As much as I am tempted to set up camp in my bedroom when I find myself holding a screaming, naked toddler while stepping over dried up pizza on the living room floor, I'm going to stand and breathe and try to say thank you for the whole story, because the whole story is so much bigger than these long days. It's a story of redemption and renewal, taking these long days and using them to write lessons I'd never have the perspective to learn on the easy days. The types of lessons you only discover when staying where you are takes real work.
In other news, as of 10:30 tonight, we will have survived our first full week with BJ back at work. Glory hallelujah! Tomorrow's celebrations will be in the form of many naps.